Monday 19 March 2012

Below The Root - Commodore 64 - 1984

Even though I never owned Commodore 64 I attempted to keep an eye on the ‘competition’ so to speak, yet this game somehow slipped under the radar.  On discovering this little gem my jaw hit the ground. The game looks so ahead of its time for 1984 and I was surprised I had never heard of it.  Maybe it was never released in the UK; I don’t know.  It is one of those games you knew the Spectrum would never have been able to run not least because it came on these new fangled things called floppy disks.

Below The Root is a graphic adventure game set in the world of Green Sky.  Your ultimate goal is to discover what has happened to someone call Raamo, a character who was trying to unite the two races in the game but has subsequently disappeared.  You start by selecting one of several characters, each with differing abilities and starting points on the map.  You begin the game in your own abode (or nid-place as it is called) and have to explore the world of Green Sky, talking to the inhabitants in order to find clues on what happened to Raamo. 

The game covers several dozen screens set above, on and below the ground.  It also incorporates some very basic platforming elements due to the bulk of the environment being set in the branches of trees. There are several items you can pick up or purchase which help you get around.  These include ropes, lamps, trencher beaks and shubas.  Trencher beaks can be used machete-like to cut through undergrowth and a shuba is garment that enables you to glide between trees and prevent injury when falling.  You also possess ‘spirit skills’ which are psychic-like abilities.  You can use these to read minds, teleport items (or yourself) and to make tree branches grow.  You don’t have all the skills at the beginning of the game but they can be increased by speaking with key characters.

Although you can’t die in this game you do have a limited amount of stamina and food.  Stamina is sapped by running about and getting hurt.  If either of these stats reach zero you fall unconscious and are transported back to your nid-place to recover.  This takes precious time from your 50 day time limit.  Stamina can be replenished by resting and food can be bought, found or is occasionally offered.

One outstanding aspect of the game is that it is entirely joystick driven with very intuitive controls.  You use the joystick to move your character around and a SCUMM-like menu can be called up anytime for other commands.  All very slick for the time.

Technically the sound is somewhat basic, limited to spot effects and short, simple tunes whenever a major discovery is found.  The graphics, however, are varied, colourful, detailed and well animated for the time.  Overall Below The Root is a great game and would have been well ahead of it’s time when it was released. One bonus for me is that it's not too difficult because I'm crap at adventure games.  It's just a case of pense and speak to everyone and follow their hints, rather than finding uses for unrelated objects for obscure purposes.  This is one of those unsung classics I had hoped to find when starting out on this project.

The shuba is one of the most useful items in the game
Sample of gameplay

Spoilers (My game map and final screen)

Below The Root map

'That's all very well but get out of my personal space'.


  1. Huh. I had read about the PC version on the Adventure Gamer, but decided not to check it out, since early PC games are often more trouble than they're worth. I'd better check out this C64 port, though, looks more tolerable than the PC version.

  2. I read his playthrough too. The CGA graphics certainly don't do the game justice. I found this game at the end of last year and it was what inspired me to write the blog to see if there were any other great games I missed.

  3. By the way, how are you taking screenshots from C64? I'm using CCS64, but it only seems to take .bmp files. I'd consider switching emulators if I can get decent screenshots.

    1. I'm using Hypersnap. It's a paid for app but it's the best I've found. There's a link on the right.

    2. Too rich for my blood, I'm afraid. Thanks for the answer, though, probably a good idea to look at screenshot programs and not just emulators.

  4. My little brother and I played this game when we were kids in the late 80s. It's still my favorite Commodore 64 game of all time. I have fond memories of playing, adding to the map, and finally finishing the game...only to start over again. Nice write-up. It's great that people are still discovering it.